The start of fall can mean only one thing: Flu season is right around the corner. I've already had my fair share, still down for the count from a cold virus that's caught fire around the Northeast.
But while I drown in sickness, NASCAR hopes for health after a contagious first Chase race of its own that sniffs at the makings of playoff success for the first time in six years. In one corner, you have reigning dynasty
At one point on Sunday, 200 laps into the race all 12 Chasers were inside the top 18, most of which displayed a sense of urgency that's been reserved for all but a handful of races this season. So while you may detest the system -- trust me, I do too - it's hard to argue with the on-track action, at least for one race. So let's all take a deep breath, exhale, and go with the flow these next nine weeks. Just because there's one great playoff run doesn't mean the Chase shouldn't change, and just because a race is exciting doesn't mean you should turn off the TV in disgust. Hate the system ... but watch the races, if only to concentrate on the individual performances you'll see. More and more, I'm feeling like this postseason is one you don't want to miss out on.
Time to get to your questions and comments. You can reach me at Tbowles81@yahoo.com,
The winner-take-all thought process proves an interesting study after Chase race one, where Bowyer took a car that barely made the playoffs and surged to second in the standings after his victory. Let's say Bowyer goes on to win two more races, winning the Chase in a monumental upset as the 12 seed. Should he have been excluded under this format just because those wins came in the final quarter of the season and not the first three?
You don't penalize a stick 'n' ball team for being at its best in the 4th quarter, and that's what the Chase drivers are supposed to do -- Bowyer is merely following the point system guidelines that reward regular season consistency. But you certainly can enhance the aggression by including some sort of "wild card" during that time, where a victory in certain races can get you some sort of postseason berth. See below...
I love the idea of the Daytona or Indy winners getting into the Chase. Adding a postseason bid adds a whole different type of prestige, putting more focus on individual regular season events that have all seemed to resemble the same monotone melody as of late.
This year's "wild card," then, would have been
Critics would argue that a roller-coaster regular season would leave McMurray unlikely to contend for the title over these last ten weeks. But if Bowyer can get hot -- a guy who entered Loudon with an 88-race winless drought stretching all the way back to Richmond in May 2008 -- why not someone with wins in the sport's two biggest races on his resume this season?
People have worried all along about how this point format can produce a winless or undeserving champion. Well, perception-wise, let me ask you a hypothetical question: Which would bother you more? A guy in Bowyer who won once at New Hampshire, then top-10'd you to death en route to the season title, or a guy with a bunch of DNFs, who snuck in as a wild card but then got hot, taking home the title along with the sport's two biggest races?
Personally, I think option No. 1 (Bowyer) would bother people more. So the concept of a "wild card" is not a bad idea, one that could be tied in with the old Winston Million program. Maybe you offer an automatic postseason berth to anyone not in the Chase who wins the sport's five biggest races: Daytona, Darlington, Talladega (Spring), the Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte), and Indianapolis. If that bloats the field, then put up a driver limit (10? 12?) so that means 8th, 9th, 10th on back in points could be knocked out by winners, not strokers. That'll make it harder for title-contending drivers to test or take it easy during the summer, as a few bad races -- it happened to Hamlin in August, where he fell to 10th after two straight mechanical failures -- would actually leave them on the outside looking in instead of comfortably in the Chase.
Believe it or not, Adam, the Cup Series has been to Elkhart Lake before ... just not since 1956, when Hall of Fame finalist
Personally, my pick for expanding to three road courses would be Montreal, a nail-biting Canadian course with passing zones, sold out crowds, and fantastic finishes already documented in four Nationwide Series starts. But at least we're on the same page in that a Chase that's supposed to be the most challenging ten weeks on the circuit needs a road course to live up to the billing.
Actually Mark, the response continues to be overwhelmingly positive. Either Junior Nation has hit the ignore button or everyone's starting to face facts.
I bring this up once more -- albeit briefly -- as the No. 88 surprised most with a fourth-place finish on Sunday. What proved the difference? In my opinion, it was none other than
We've been there, done that with this mailbag, Earnhardt, and the CoT. Check out my archive and you'll see plenty written on it. Brief reminder summary: He has 17 wins in the old car, one with the new, and a whole lot of heartache in trying to figure out how it handles.
One other curveball to consider with Junior: once again, there was a major rule change this year with the spoiler replacing the wing and altering the handling on his Chevrolet. If he's already a slow learner, it's conceivable this latest curveball pushed him further back to square one. But I still stand by the main tenets of my article from a few weeks ago. The clash of two different cultures can sometimes be impossible to mesh in any work environment -- especially sports.
Wow. Come on, Michael ... you gotta give Earnhardt more credit than that. At least he avoided the dreaded Mane 'N' Tail shampoo sponsorship. And I would replace the "hair replacement" line with Enterprise commercials. Hardcore fans know who and what I'm speaking of ...
Well, those odds were just for fun and games; I wasn't actually playing by the Vegas playbook. But if you're looking for a darkhorse pick in the world of real gambling, Carl Edwards (15/1 to win the title, according to BetUS) seems to be your best bet. If there's anyone left among the winless crowd that can get hot and surge towards a title, it's Cousin Carl.
Finally, our "out of left field" email of the week...
A Caribbean reader! Turns out Juan Pablo doesn't have the international market covered after all.
"I thought the Chase might push me over the edge.... My mistake, looks like its fantasy football that's gonna do it!!!!" -